This season, for the first time in four years, New York hockey fans can do more than just hope. With the Rangers still in contention at the season's halfway point, it now looks as though only a major catastrophe could keep them out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. For most Ranger fans, inured to defeat over the past years, a fourth-place finish and a place in the playoffs would be a dream come true, but for one newcomer to their ranks—the one most involved—it would not be nearly good enough. Doug Harvey, the man imported from Montreal to give the Rangers new spirit, believes in finishing on top; Harvey is not a fourth-place type. In his 13 seasons with the Canadiens he only once finished as low as fourth and, until last spring, he had played in hockey's World Series, the Stanley Cup finals, for 10 straight years. During those years the Canadiens won the cup six times, including a record five straight from 1956 through 1960. "Maybe I'm spoiled, but it's not too bad that way, eh?" says the new Ranger coach with the rhetorical "eh?" characteristic of Canadian speech. "It's nice to win."
Taking over at the Ranger training camp in Guelph, Ontario in September, Harvey growled, "This team finished fifth last season. That's no damn good." Significantly, he never succumbed to the standard Ranger party line: "We'll make the playoffs." Says Harvey: "Suppose we come down to the end of the season and we've got a chance to finish first or second and some of the guys remember that I said I was shooting for fourth place. They might relax a little, eh? I can't understand somebody who says that. It happens in baseball. The manager says he's shooting for the first division. He's conceding the pennant. That's no way to do it. Hell, shoot for the top, eh?"
As coach of a team whose target is the top, Doug Harvey is aided considerably by the fact that he alone, of all NHL coaches, can set an example on the ice itself, and the example he sets is a good one. Only a few top players—Milt Schmidt and Dit Clapper of Boston, Sid Abel and Paul Thompson of Chicago—have attempted the dual task of player-coach since the NHL came of age in the mid-'20s, and most of them came to coaching with their playing skills tarnished by time. Recognized as the best defenseman in the league over the past decade, and by some experts as the best of all time—his selection to nine All-Star teams is a record—Doug Harvey is still playing hockey nearly as well as he did in his glory years. So well, in fact, that he is a leading candidate for an implausible pair of postseason prizes: as the league's most valuable player and the league's coach of the year. Doug Harvey turned 37 last month, and at an age when most hockey players have taken up curling in their Canadian home towns he skates for a grueling 35 to 40 minutes in every Ranger game. On the bench Murray (Muzz) Patrick, the Ranger general manager, makes the moves that Harvey has planned, but whenever Harvey comes off the ice he takes full charge. Back in the dressing room between periods or after the game, he sums up without theatrics, using simple words that say a great deal. Only the tone of his voice betrays his feelings. He might say pleasantly, "We played pretty well." Or scornfully, "We stopped skating." Or challengingly, "We're not out there for a tie." He protects his players but not himself. "That second goal against us,' he said recently, "that was the fault of the defenseman in front of the net—me." He is the team's most popular player but, hatless and with his overcoat collar turned up, he leaves the locker room by himself. "I miss having a beer with the guys," he has often said, "but when you're the coach you can't do it."
Harvey discovered a solution to this delicate problem a few weeks ago. The Rangers had just gone six games without a win. "I figured a few of the guys might go out anyway," he said at the time, "so we all went out together." They gathered in a Chicago tavern after a game and talked out their problems over pizza and a few drinks. Harvey picked up the tab—"about $56," he reported—and a few ideas. He shuffled the forward lines and the team snapped its slump.
As a coach, Harvey rules with a firm but relaxed grip. "I don't knock on doors and baby guys," he says. "They know the rules and I expect them to keep them. If they don't it'll show on the ice."
Harvey has imposed no set curfew. "But," reports General Manager Patrick, "we've had no problems with discipline this season." Harvey's only crackdown involved smoking in the dressing room, although he is a heavy cigar smoker himself. The first day of training camp he noticed high-scoring Left Wing Dean Prentice puffing a cigarette while changing into his uniform. "I don't think we oughta have any smoking in here," Harvey said sharply. "I even put mine out," recalls Patrick.
Harvey later made one exception to the rule: Goalie Gump Worsley can smoke after a game. "He's on the ice for 60 minutes," the coach says. "The tension is a little different. Maybe he needs one, eh? But I figure the other guys will live until they get outside."
Such gestures do not go unappreciated. "We never had a player who was a leader before," says the ardently pro-Harvey Gump, a veteran of nine years in the Ranger nets. "He treats us like pros," says Andy Bathgate, the new Ranger captain and league-leading scorer. "No Ranger coach ever did that before."
Being in a position of authority and command does not come easily to this cherub-faced leader, however. In the final days of training camp last fall he discovered the bitterness of responsibility as he faced the task of cutting down the squad. "I didn't want to be unfair," he says now. "I hardly knew some of the players and I kept thinking, who was I anyway to tell someone else he wasn't good enough to be on the club. I saw the sun come up a few times without any sleep."
But if humanitarian considerations sometimes soften Doug Harvey's discipline, sentimentality owns no part of him. When Montreal lost to Toronto in the 1951 Stanley Cup final, most of Harvey's teammates stood around the ice to shake hands with the victorious Maple Leafs, but Harvey disappeared into the dressing room. "Why should I shake hands with them?" he said at the time. "They just beat us." One of his best pals at Montreal was Bert Olmstead, the old-pro left wing, but when the Canadiens dealt Olmstead to Toronto a few years ago their friendship ended—at least during the season. "If Bert was on the other side of the room," Harvey says, "I might nod to him, but that's all. I see some of our guys talking to other players. I can't understand it. It doesn't make sense to me. The next night the other guy might chop their head off. In the summer, that's different, eh?"